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College and its Effect on Students

Early Work on the Impact of College, Nine Generalizations, Later Studies, Pascarella and Terenzini

Among the earliest systematic analyses of college outcomes are those of C. Robert Pace (1941, 1979); James Trent and Leland Medsker (1968); and Kenneth Feldman and Theodore Newcomb (1969). Focusing on both longitudinal changes and cross-sectional differences, this body of research generated some of the first significant impressions of the efficacy of college attendance. By and large, these studies explored basic distinctions between those who attended college and those who did not. Beginning with analyses of standardized achievement-test data and alumni surveys from single institutions, and progressing to syntheses of multi-institutional assessments, this early literature was quite convincing, albeit preliminarily, in its conclusion that postsecondary education made a significant positive difference in the lives of students, both during and following college attendance.

Early Work on the Impact of College

C. Robert Pace, whose pioneering work ranged from They Went to College (1941) to Measuring Outcomes of College (1979), concluded, after reviewing some fifty years of findings on college outcomes, that "college graduates as a group, of all ages and in all periods, more frequently possess knowledge about public affairs, people in the news, geography, history, humanities, sciences, and popular culture than do adults who had lesser amounts of schooling" (1979, p. 168). In addition to these gains in general education knowledge, the benefits beyond college, Pace observed, are apparent from reports of alumni who typically "have good jobs and good incomes, like their jobs, think their college experience was relevant and useful in their work, look back on their college years with considerable satisfaction, participate to a considerable extent in a variety of civic and cultural activities, and believe that college contributed to their breadth of knowledge, interpersonal skills, values, and critical thinking" (1979, p. 168).

Between 1959 and 1963 James Trent and Leland Medsker followed the paths of 10,000 high school graduates who either pursued postsecondary education or moved directly into the work force. Of these two groups, those who completed college following high school showed greater gains in autonomy and intellectual disposition. More specifically, college graduates were "less stereotyped and prejudiced in their judgments, more critical in their thinking, and more tolerant, flexible, and autonomous in attitude" (pp. 129–130). These outcomes were most evident, regardless of the type of institution attended, among those who graduated, followed by those who withdrew, those who sought employment immediately following high school, and those identified as "homemakers." Exceptional changers, that is, those who had experienced unusually high gains on these outcome measures, in comparison to average changers and negative changers, those who had experienced average gains or losses on these measures, were represented proportionately by more males than females and by students with higher levels of parental education and occupation. Exceptional change on a measure of social maturity was found to be related to "openness to ideas, tolerance of different points of view, and self direction" (p. 197).

Factors associated with negative change were "limited ability, limited education, a constricted socioeconomic background, over-dependence on a dogmatic or fundamentalistic religion, and an unenlightened, unstimulating, and autocratic family background" (p. 212). College graduates "emphasized general education as the most important purpose of education," in comparison to those who withdrew, who "placed more importance on vocational training" (p. 227). Trent and Medsker concluded that, "rather than effecting the changes, the college may facilitate change for many predisposed to it. But whether the process is facilitation or reinforcement, the specific catalysts for change have yet to be identified" (pp. 195–196).

Kenneth Feldman and Theodore Newcomb were the first to comprehensively catalog and analyze extant research on college impact. Their 1969 review attempted "to integrate a wide variety of studies of the effects of colleges on students over a forty-year period from the middle twenties to the middle sixties" (p. 2), with a particular focus on data relative to six value domains: theoretical, economic, aesthetic, social, political, and religious. They found the most consistent freshman-to-senior changes were that a higher relative importance was placed on aesthetics and a lower importance was placed on religious values.

Feldman and Newcomb's analysis is particularly instructive of the challenge in measuring attitude changes, especially in considering their extensity, intensity, and direction. Reliance on freshman-to-senior group differences to chart changes can mask any number of dynamics in the data that may implicate significant impacts. Group averages are influenced by the number of individuals who change (extensity) and the degree to which each of them changes (intensity). The largest changes would entail both high extensity and high intensity of effect, just as small changes would indicate low degrees of these factors. In between are intermediate changes, reflecting potential combinations of high intensity changes among few individuals or lower intensity changes among many.

Direction of change must also be considered, as six potential patterns may be apparent. First is the accentuation of an attitude, from a moderately favorable or unfavorable form to one that is strongly held. Second is the regression of an attitude, as indicated by movement to a more neutral position from a previously held favorable or unfavorable attitude. Third is the conversion of an attitude from a favorable to an unfavorable form, or vice versa. Fourth is the maintenance of an attitude, evident in the reinforcement or retention of an attitude in its current form (favorable or unfavorable). Fifth is the neutralization of an attitude when a favorable or unfavorable attitude dissipates toward a neutral form. Sixth and final is the formation of an attitude from a neutral position to one that is either favorable or unfavorable.

Nine Generalizations

Feldman and Newcomb concluded their analysis with nine generalizations regarding college impacts and the various experiences and factors associated with them. First, the authors state, "freshman-to-senior changes in several characteristics have been occurring with considerable uniformity in most American colleges and universities," namely "declining 'authoritarianism,' dogmatism, and prejudice, together with decreasingly conservative attitudes toward public issues and growing sensitivity to aesthetic experiences" (p. 326).

Second, they found that "the degree and nature of different colleges' impacts vary with their student inputs, … those characteristics in which freshman-to-senior change is distinctive for a given college will also have been distinctive for its entering freshmen" (pp. 327–328). In other words, the most prominent changes among students owe much to an accentuation or reinforcement effect of their initial characteristics.

Third, the same accentuation effect that operates to distinguish one institution from another also differentiates students in one major from those in another. "Whatever characteristics distinguish entrants into different majors tend, especially if relevant to the academic field chosen, to become still more distinctive of those groups following the pursuit of the major" (p. 329).

Fourth, "the maintenance of existing values or attitudes which, apart from certain kinds of college experience, might have been weakened or reversed, is an important kind of impact" (p. 329). This insight underscores the potential effect an absence of "reinforcing or consolidating experiences" might have, such as the case of students who bid unsuccessfully to join an on-campus group (e.g., fraternity or service club) and subsequently develop "attitudes more closely resembling those of students with whom they continued to live" (p. 330).

Fifth, Feldman and Newcomb claim, "though faculty members are often individually influential, particularly in respect to career decisions, college faculties do not appear to be responsible for campus-wide impact except in settings where the influence of student peers and of faculty complement and reinforce one another" more on a professional than a personal level (p. 330).

Sixth, "the conditions for campus-wide impacts appear to have been most frequently provided in small, residential, four-year colleges … [where there is a] relative homogeneity of both faculty and student body together with opportunity for continuing interaction, not exclusively formal, among students and between students and faculty" (p. 331). Having human-scale opportunities for interacting around shared interests and characteristics is an apparent requisite for such outcomes.

Seventh, "college impacts are conditioned by the background and personality of the student" (p.332). In terms of background characteristics, "the more incongruent a student is with the overall environment of his [sic] college the more likely he is to withdraw from that college or from higher education in general" (p. 332). However, personal characteristics, such as openness to change and a willingness to be influenced by others, can enhance the impact potential of the college experience.

Eighth, "attitudes held by students on leaving college tend to persist thereafter, particularly as a consequence of living in post-college environments that support those attitudes" (p. 332). This is particularly the case when students' habits of being open to new information and being influenced persist as new opportunities arise.

Ninth, "whatever the characteristics of an individual that selectively propel him [sic] toward particular educational settings–such as going to college, selecting a particular one, choosing a certain academic major, or acquiring membership in a particular group of peers–those same characteristics are apt to be reinforced and extended by the experiences incurred in those selected settings" (p. 333). This accentuation hypothesis asserts that "if students initially having certain characteristics choose a certain setting (a college, a major, a peer group) in which those characteristics are prized and nurtured, accentuation of such characteristics is likely to occur" (p. 335). From this point of view, the impact of college is related to the fit between a student and an institution.

Later Studies

Constituting a second wave of notable literature on the impact of college are the works of Howard Bowen (1977), Alexander Astin (1977, 1993), and Ernest Pascarella and Patrick Terenzini (1991). These more recent analyses are characterized by their more comprehensive scope, their attention to the myriad factors that contribute qualitatively to the college experience, and the depth of their synthesis of extant data. They also draw from theories that attempt to integrate the various components that contribute to college outcomes.

Howard Bowen, in Investment in Learning (1977), constructed a framework of highereducation goals related to outcomes for individual students. First, cognitive learning outcomes include verbal skills, quantitative skills, substantive knowledge, rationality, intellectual tolerance, aesthetic sensibility, creativeness, intellectual integrity, wisdom, and lifelong learning. Second are outcomes related to emotional and moral development, which include personal self-discovery, psychological well-being, human understanding, values and morals, religious interest, and refinement of taste, conduct, and manner. Third is practical competence, including traits of value in practical affairs (such as need for achievement, future orientation, adaptability, and leadership), citizenship, economic productivity, sound family life, consumer efficiency, fruitful leisure, and health.

Reviewing the cumulative weight of evidence, Bowen concluded that "higher education, taken as a whole, is enormously effective" (p. 431) in terms of its contributions to positive individual and societal changes. On average, a college education "produces a large increase in substantive knowledge; moderate increases in verbal skills, intellectual tolerance, esthetic [sic] sensibility, and lifelong cognitive development; and small increases in mathematical skills, rationality, and creativity" (p. 432). In regards to affective outcomes, for example, college "helps students a great deal in finding their personal identity and in making lifetime choices congruent with this identity. It increases moderately their psychological well-being as well as their understanding, human sympathy, and tolerance toward ethnic and national groups and toward people who hold differing opinions" (p. 433). It also "greatly enhances the practical competence of its students as citizens, workers, family members, and consumers," in addition to influencing, in positive ways, "their leisure activities, their health, and their general ability to cope with life's problems" (p. 434). Significant positive changes in personality structures are also evident, namely in the "liberation of the personality as the most distinctive and important outcome" (p.435), in becoming "more independent and self-sufficient" (p. 436), and in gaining a range of intrinsic values and interests.

Alexander Astin's two research compendiums stand as additional landmarks during this period in the study of college and its effect on students. First, in Four Critical Years (1977), and subsequently in What Matters in College (1993), Astin synthesized data gathered through the Cooperative Institutional Research Program (CIRP), surveying some 200,000 students from 300 postsecondary institutions of all types. Both of these volumes are rich in detail in their framing of the inputs (or characteristics of students at the point of entry to college), environments (various programs, policies, faculty, peers, and educational experiences to which students are exposed), and outcomes (students' characteristics after exposure to the environment) that figure into the mix of college-impact research. These three sources of data are placed within a taxonomy comprised of outcomes (cognitive versus affective), data types (psychological versus behavioral), and timeframes (during collegeversus after college).

Among the types of outcomes in this model are cognitive measures, including knowledge, critical thinking ability, basic skills, and academic achievement. These outcomes are reflected in both psychological data, relating to the "internal states or traits of the individual" and behavioral data, relating to "directly observable activities" (p. 9), such as certain aspects of career development, level of educational attainment, and vocational achievements (e.g., level of responsibility, income, and awards or special recognition). Affective outcomes incorporate those of a psychological nature, such as self-concept, values, attitudes, beliefs, drive for achievement, and satisfaction with college, as well as behavioral factors, such as personal habits, avocations, mental health, citizenship, and interpersonal relations. A temporal dimension considers that colleges and universities are interested in both short-term (during college) and long-term (after college) effects.

Overall, two decades of CIRP data show that, in the affective realm, "students change in many ways after they enter college," developing a "more positive self image, … substantial increases in Social Activism, Feminism, alcohol consumption, and support for legal abortions," as well as "increases in their commitment to participate in programs to clean up the environment, to promote racial understanding, and to develop a meaningful philosophy of life" (Astin, pp. 396–397). Cognitively, students report "substantial growth in most areas of knowledge and skills, especially in knowledge of a field or discipline" (p. 397).

Regarding factors that contribute to such changes, Astin tenders several general conclusions. First, "the student's peer group is the single most potent source of influence on growth and development during the undergraduate years." That is, "students' values, beliefs, and aspirations tend to change in the direction of the dominant values, beliefs, and aspirations of the peer group" (p. 398). Following the peer group, "the faculty represents the most significant aspect of the student's undergraduate development"(p. 410). Underlying all of this is the dynamic of student involvement and its potential "for enhancing most aspects of the undergraduate student's cognitive and affective development" (p. 394). More specifically, "learning, academic performance, and retention are positively associated [proportionately] with academic involvement, involvement with faculty, and involvement with student peer groups" (p.394). In addition, "living at home, commuting, being employed off-campus, being employed fulltime, and watching television" (p. 395) tend to negatively affect these same outcomes. Last, it appears clear that "most effects of institutional type [e.g., public versus private, four-year college versus university, small versus large] are indirect; that is, they are mediated by faculty, peer group, and involvement variables" (p. 413).

Pascarella and Terenzini

The most comprehensive, systematic review to date on the question of college impact is found in Ernest Pascarella and Patrick Terenzini's tome, How College Affects Students (1991). Examining more than 2,600 empirical studies completed over a period of fifty years, the authors considered college outcomes in reference to: (1) verbal, quantitative, and subject matter competence; (2) cognitive skills and intellectual growth; (3) changes of identity, self-concept, and self-esteem; (4) changes in relating to others and the external world; (5) attitudes and values; (6) moral development; (7) educational attainment; (8) career choice and development; (9) economic benefits; and (10) quality of life after college.

Guiding their "narrative explanatory synthesis" of evidence regarding these outcomes were six fundamental questions. First, what evidence is there that individuals change during the time in which they are attending college? This question lies at the base of any comparisons between college attenders and nonattenders and is designed to ferret out data implicating outcomes or changes during the college experience. Second is the question: What evidence is there that change or development during college is the result of college attendance? In other words, can changes be attributed to the college experience itself, rather than other potential influences (e.g., maturation). Such changes are referred to as net effects of college.

The third question is: What evidence is there that different kinds of postsecondary institutions have a differential influence on student change or development during college? This query concerns whether different types of institutions (e.g., public, academically selective, small, or financially resourceful institutions) exert differential influences on certain outcomes. These are referred to as between-college effects. Fourth is the question: What evidence exists on effects of different experiences within the same institution? For example, do students who live in on-campus residences, select particular majors, interact frequently with faculty, or become involved in extracurricular activities change along these various dimensions to a greater extent than those who don't engage in such experiences. These changes are referred to as within-college effects.

Fifth is the question: What evidence is there that the collegiate experience produces conditional, as opposed to general, effects on student change or development? In other words, do different experiences affect different students in different ways? For example, are the outcomes apparent for men as well as for women? For majority students versus minorities? For first generation students? Such outcomes are identified as conditional effects of college.

The sixth question guiding Pascarella and Terenzini's synthesis is: What are the long-term effects of college? In this final probe, consideration for the durability or permanence of the collegiate experience is paramount. Are the effects of college attendance direct or indirect? That is, are they evident in the lives of students beyond the point of degree completion?

Subject-Matter Competence. Regarding verbal, quantitative, and subject-matter competence, the evidence for change during college is consistent and compelling. Accordingly, "students make statistically significant gains in general and more specific subject matter knowledge during their undergraduate years" (p. 107), with apparent changes in general verbal skills, general mathematical or quantitative skills, and specific subject-matter knowledge. However, the "net effect of college on verbal skills may be somewhat smaller and the effect on mathematical skills may be somewhat larger than that indicated by typical freshman-to-senior gains" (p. 108). Any evidence for between-college effects on these outcomes suggests that "measures of institutional 'quality' or environmental characteristics have [little] more than a small, perhaps trivial, net influence on how much a student learns during four years of college" (p.108).

Research related to within-college effects on these outcomes has demonstrated that neither academic major nor small discussion-oriented classrooms make any appreciable difference in mastery of factual subject matter, although well-sequenced, modular, and individualized strategies, when combined with frequent feedback and student involvement, do make a difference. Furthermore, greater degrees of teacher effort (in terms of command of subject matter, enthusiasm, clarity, organization and structure, and rapport), complemented by student effort, seem to enhance subject-matter learning. Concerning conditional effects, "there is little consistent evidence to suggest that either postsecondary education in general or the type of institution attended in particular has a differential effect on knowledge acquisition for different kinds of students" (p. 110). More consistent, however, is the evidence "that certain kinds of students learn more from one instructional approach than from another" (p. 110). With regard to long-term effects on these outcomes it seems rather clear that "college graduates have a more substantial factual knowledge base" and are more inclined to "engage in activities that are likely to add to their knowledge" (p. 111) than those whose formal education ends with the completion of secondary school.

Cognitive Skills. The data in regard to cognitive skills and intellectual growth suggest that "students make statistically significant gains during the college years on a number of dimensions of general cognitive capabilities and skills" (p. 155), including oral and written communication, formal abstract reasoning, critical thinking, the use of reason and evidence to address ill-structured problems, and the ability to deal with conceptual complexity. Most of these gains seem to occur during the first two years of college. Research on the net effects of these outcomes suggests that college has a "net positive influence on diverse measures of critical thinking" (p. 156), reflective judgment, and intellectual flexibility, above and beyond the effects of normal maturation. Perhaps "college is the one [experience] that most typically provides an overall environment where the potential for intellectual growth is maximized" (p.156).

Between-college effects on intellectual growth are sparsely documented and support the impact of institutional characteristics on general cognitive skills in only limited ways. Some evidence exists, however, to suggest that institutional selectivity and a "strong and balanced curricular commitment to general education" may make a positive difference on these measures. On the other hand, a "strong emphasis on fraternity or sorority life" may inhibit critical thinking (p. 157). Research on within-college effects suggests that various curricular emphases (as reflected in different majors) can influence reasoning processes differentially, as can varying emphases on teaching strategies (e.g., discussion-oriented problem solving), and specially structured interventions. The dynamics of such changes suggest that "cognitive development may be a gradual process characterized by a period of rapid advancement followed by a period of consolidation" (p. 159). Furthermore, such effects also appear to be partially a function of the social and academic integration of students. Evidence of conditional effects on the development of general cognitive skills is inconsistent and sparse, suggesting only limited influence attributed to differences in students or institutional characteristics. Finally, self-reports of impact suggest that college has important long-term effects on cognitive development and thinking skills, as do "intellectually and stimulating work environments" (p. 160), perhaps the kind that are more accessible to college graduates.

Identity. Changes on measures of identity, self-concept, and self-esteem during the college years consistently support a significant positive effect, although not dramatic, for students. The evidence tends to support generally linear gains in academic and social self-concepts, as well as "students' beliefs about themselves in such areas as their popularity in general and with the opposite sex, their leadership abilities, their social self-confidence, and their understanding of others" (p. 203). In addition, they gain in self-esteem. With the caveat that much of the research on the net effects of college on these particular outcomes is too often confounded by age and normal maturation, and absent controls for family background or other relevant characteristics, Pascarella and Terenzini concluded that "postsecondary educational attainment appears to be related positively to changes in students' ratings of themselves relative to their peers" (p. 204), in terms of both academic self-concept and social self-concept. Such effects, however, appear to be small, mostly indirect, and interrelated with other characteristics.

Concerning any between-college effects on these measures, it seems that "what happens to students after they enroll has greater influence on them than where they enroll" (p. 205). Although characteristics such as institutional size and selectivity may exert limited indirect effects, it appears that "there are few changes in students' self-images and self-esteem associated with attending various kinds of colleges or universities" (p. 205). Research on within-college effects on these measures is even more scant, if not methodologically flawed. Despite other inconsistencies, the data do suggest that "levels of academic and social integration, particularly the degree of involvement with peers and faculty members, are positively related to gains in students' academic and social self-concepts" with peers being "particularly influential"(p. 206).

Support for any conditional effect of college on these measures is quite limited, although there seems to be evidence of a few sex-and race-related differences. All in all, the "effects of educational attainment on academic and social self-concepts are general rather than conditional" (p. 207). Concerning the long-term effects on these outcomes, the benefits of college seem to persist for at least seven to ten years, and probably longer. However, the authors caution educators to withhold confidence in the research in this domain, since the literature is novel and subject to many methodological constraints that warrant a more limited conclusion.

Relating to Others. Focusing on changes in relating to others and the external world, Pascarella and Terenzini concluded that, with remarkable consistency, "students' relational systems change during the college years," including increases in "students' freedom from the influences of others, … in non-authoritarian thinking and tolerance for other people and their views, in intellectual orientation to problem solving and their own world view in general, in the maturity of their interpersonal relations, in their personal adjustment skills and general sense of psychological well-being, and in their more globally measured levels of maturity and personal development" (p. 257). It is thought that "the early college years may be somewhat more influential than the later ones" in their effect on these outcomes, although a paucity of research on such questions precludes any firm conclusions in that regard. That these changes are reflective of net gains during college, however, can be claimed only about select but important areas. The authors state that "the weight of evidence therefore fairly clearly supports popular beliefs about the effects of college in helping to reduce students' authoritarianism, dogmatism, and (perhaps) ethnocentrism and in increasing their intellectual orientation, personal psychological adjustment, and sense of psychological well-being" (p.259).

Evidence for between-college effects in this domain is mixed but suggestive of the claim that "where a student goes to college may make a difference in the kinds of change that are likely to occur in the relational facets of that student's psychosocial makeup. That difference, however, is likely to be slight." Furthermore, it appears that any "institutional effects [are] more likely to follow from differences in institutional context, such as the organizational policies, practices, and interpersonal climate–that students find on campus" (p. 261).

Research on potential within-college effects supports the positive influences of departmental environments, living-learning centers, and interpersonal contacts and relations with peers and faculty on these outcomes, but not necessarily academic majors. With regard to any conditional effects of college on these measures, the data are so limited as to warrant a conclusion only that "nothing can be said with confidence about college effects in any of the six areas reviewed that might be dependent on students' individual characteristics" (p. 262). Lastly, a review of the research on the long-term effects of college on graduates' relational systems offers only a few select influences in that regard.

Attitudes and Values. One of the more voluminous agendas for research on college students over the decades has focused on charting changes in student attitudes and values in five general areas: (1) cultural, aesthetic, and intellectual; (2) educational and occupational; (3) social and political; (4) religious; and (5) sex and gender roles. Pascarella and Terenzini found that the evidence for change during the college years is both plentiful and consistent, in that "colleges, as their founders and supporters might hope, appear to have a generally liberating influence on students' attitudes and values. Without exception, the nature and direction of the observed changes involve greater breadth, expansion, inclusiveness, complexity, and appreciation for the new and different. In all cases, the movement is toward greater individual freedom: artistic and cultural, intellectual, political, social, racial, educational, occupational, personal, and behavioral" (p. 326). Research on the net effects of college in that regard support a consistent but modest influence "above and beyond the characteristics students bring with them to college," as well as independent of "changes that have occurred in the larger society" (p. 326).

While consistent evidence suggests that value changes are relatively independent of institutional structural characteristics, implicating few between-college effects, moderate evidence supports the observation that "selective, frequently private institutions … exert a relatively greater influence … on changes in students' aesthetic and cultural values and interests, their political and social values, and their religiousness" (p. 327).

Within-college effects on values and attitudes seem to be related more to "interpersonal associations students have with faculty members and peers, often in the departmental context, [but] more frequently in the residence halls." However, whether "these influences are exerted through the frequency of contact, … the nature of the contact, or the more contextual generalized presence of faculty members and other students who hold a certain set of … attitudes and values toward which new students gravitate over time" remains unclear (p. 328). In regard to the conditional influences on these changes, the "literature has little to say about the differential effects of college on values and attitudes for different kinds of students" (p. 329), although what changes do occur seem to persist into adulthood as long-term effects.

Moral Development. Long considered an important goal of American higher education, the character education and moral development of students has only recently gained the systematic attention of researchers. Evidence to date suggests that "college is linked with statistically significant increases in the use of principled reasoning to judge moral issues," and that the college experience itself has a unique positive net influence on such development and may be accentuated differentially, from one institution to another, through the student peer context. Furthermore, the key to within-college effects in fostering moral reasoning may "lie in providing a range of intellectual, cultural, and social experiences from which a range of different students might potentially benefit" (p. 366), such as certain curricular or course interventions. Conditional effects in that regard are, in particular, more positive for those of high levels of cognitive development. Nevertheless, any influence in that direction seems to be long-term and consistent, and may even be linked ultimately to "a range of principled behaviors, including resisting cheating, social activism, keeping contractual promises, and helping those in need" (p. 367).

Educational Attainment. The benefits of completing formal schooling, or educational attainment, have long been associated with occupational status and social mobility. Between-college effects are apparent in attending a four-year institution, rather than a two-year college; a private or small college, rather than a large one; and, for black students and females, institutions that enroll predominantly black and predominantly women students. College environmental factors, such as a "cohesive peer environment, … frequent participation in college-sponsored activities, and a perception that the institution has a high level of personal involvement with and concern for the individual student" (p. 417), also seem to contribute to such an outcome. So too does a strong institutional emphasis on supportive student personnel services, inasmuch as this contributes to higher persistence rates among students. In addition to successful academic achievement, significant within-college effects on educational attainment include "one's level of involvement or integration in an institution's social system" (p.418), "social interaction with significant others during college, and the encouragement received therefrom," and living on campus, particularly in "livinglearning residences that attempt programmatically to integrate the student's academic and social life"(p. 419).

In addition to part-time employment on campus, also linked to educational attainment are various first-year programs "designed to orient the student to the institution and to teach important academic survival skills" (p. 419). Research on conditional effects suggest that varying levels of social and academic integration may compensate for shortcomings in either, especially for "the persistence of students who either enter college with individual traits predictive of withdrawal or who have low commitment to the institution or the goal of graduation from college" (pp. 420–421). Ultimately, existing evidence offers strong support for the long-term generational effects of having obtained a college degree.

Career Choice. "It is clear that students frequently change their career plans during college," and that they "become significantly more mature, knowledgeable, and focused during college in thinking about planning for a career" (pp. 487–488). In terms of net influence, one of the "most pronounced and unequivocal effects of college on career is its impact on the type of job one obtains" (p. 488), offering an advantage primarily through occupational status and prestige. Whether by socialization or certification a college education offers access to betterpositioned, and potentially more satisfactory, employment. Included among between-college effects are the advantages to occupational status of a four-year degree, an elite institution experience, and to a lesser extent, enrollment in a large institution. Selective colleges also have modest effects on women choosing sex-atypical majors (e.g., engineering). Regardless of where students begin, their selection of a major/occupation tends to reflect the most popular choice at a given institution.

Within-college effects have included varying influences of academic major and achievement, extracurricular accomplishments, interaction with faculty, and work experience. Conditional effects on career choice and development have highlighted varying degrees of positive influence afforded to non-white men and women with regard to occupational status in the professions. Last, existing data on longterm effects have detected little direct intergenerational influence on career development, although it is quite clear that "attending and graduating from college is perhaps the single most important determinant of the kind of work an individual does; and the nature of one's work has implications for an array of outcomes that shape one's life" (p. 495).

Economic Benefits. Study of the economic benefits has also attracted the attention of higher education researchers, particularly as this factor "probably underlies the motivation of many students who choose to attend college rather than enter the work force immediately after high school graduation" (p. 500). In terms of net effects, it appears that a bachelor's degree "provides somewhere between a 20 and 40 percent advantage in earnings over a high school diploma" and an estimate of financial return on such an investment is "somewhere between 9.3 and 10.9 percent" (p. 529).

Evidence of between-college effects supports the small positive influence on earnings of institutional quality and size, with larger and research-oriented schools having a modest effect. Major field of study and academic achievement have both demonstrated a positive within-college effect on early career earnings. Conditional effects have supported greater economic benefits of postsecondary education for women, especially blacks and other nonwhites.

Influences of institutional selectivity seem to be most pronounced for men from a high socioeconomic nomic background in the private employment sector. Regardless, it appears that college may exert an indirect, positive intergenerational effect on early career earnings, through its influence on parental resources, type of institution attended, and educational attainment.

Quality of Life. The final line of inquiry in Pascarella and Terenzini's synthesis focuses on indexes of quality of life after college, including effects of college on subjective well-being, health, committed relationships, family size, parenting, consumer and investment behavior, and leisure. In general, completion of a college education is associated in varying degrees with positive effects on each of these indicators. However, most of these effects seem to be indirect rather than direct, suggesting that a college education probably contributes to a number of intervening outcomes that, in turn, lead to a long-term or enduring positive effect on quality of life.

In summary, two generations of researchers have established the finding that positive individual effects of higher education are related directly to a myriad of factors, such as peer group involvement, interaction with faculty, and time devoted to learning, and indirectly related to a range of institutional characteristics, such as size and mission, inasmuch as they encourage or mitigate such dimensions of engagement. Overall, the impact of college depends much on student-institution fit and the kinds of learning experiences encountered along the way that serve to reinforce compatible characteristics. Cognitive, affective, and practical educational gains are a function, not so much of where a student goes to college, but rather what a student does once enrolled in an institution. In general, the literature appears conclusive in its observation that the greater the involvement, the greater the gain.


ASTIN, ALEXANDER W. 1977. Four Critical Years. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

ASTIN, ALEXANDER W. 1993. What Matters in College. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

ASTIN, ALEXANDER W., and PANOS, R. 1969. The Educational and Vocational Development of College Students. Washington, DC: American Council on Education.

BOWEN, HOWARD. 1977. Investment in Learning: The Individual and Social Value of American Higher Education. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

FELDMAN, KENNETH A., and NEWCOMB, THEODORE M. 1969. The Impact of College on Students. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

PACE, C. ROBERT. 1941. They Went to College. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

PACE, C. ROBERT. 1979. Measuring Outcomes of College. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

PASCARELLA, ERNEST T., and TERENZINI, PATRICK T. 1991. How College Affects Students. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

TRENT, JAMES W., and MEDSKER, LELAND L. 1968. Beyond High School. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.


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Education - Free Encyclopedia Search EngineEducation Encyclopedia: Classroom Management - Creating a Learning Environment to Association for Science Education (ASE)